Alex Massie

Party Just Like We’re In the Year 2000

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It was Peter Mandelson who reminded me. Oh, I don't think the Dark Lord had any intention of jogging my memory but there it was anyway: this election rmeinds me a little of the American Presidential election in 2000. Now David Cameron's no George W Bush even though I think some Labour types do misunderstimate the young, inexperienced Tory leader but there are times when one wonders whether Gordon Brown is another Al Gore.

They share some things anyway, not least the unfortunate habit of being mocked for things they didn't quite say but everyone thinks they did ("I invented the internet!" "Well, I saved the world!"). But neither is wholly comfortable in front of the cameras nor much good at accepting even helpful advice. Both are a little too proud of their intellectual chops and each might have been a better leader in the pre-teevee era.

Most of all, however, they're running campaigns that have a fair bit in common: Gore's entire pitch was based less on his own abilities but as a warning against what might happen if George W Bush were elected. Gordon is playing a similar game. As I recall Gore denounced every Bush proposal as "risky" to the point at which one wondered if getting out of bed might be too risky an adventure should Bush become President. Well, similarly, Labour are making similar claims about the Tory manifesto: You're On Your Own with the Tories*. 

The difference, of course, is that Gore was operating in happy, sunny times. Look at this prosperity! Why risk it? Brown must make a different argument: Things are so bad! Can you risk them getting worse, punk? This leads one to the odd reality of this campaign: Labour are making a virtue out of disaster. Gordon led us into this hole so there's a better than even chance that, having explored it in detail, he can lead us out. Do you think Dave Cameron even knows what a hole looks like, let alone what to do once you've blundered into a deeper, darker, scarier hole than you've ever even thought about in the worst of your worst nightmares? No, I didn't think. Gordon, by contrastt, lives for holes. So there.

In that sense, then, the risky thing for the Tories to be today is bold. But this, as Fraser says, is where they'd pitched camp. The easier thing to do would be to keep quiet and wait for voters to realise that, whatever their doubts about Dave they know they cannot abide Gordon.

But I suspect that we'll hear a lot more from Labout about how risky the Tories plans are and how not only will they leave half the country behind, the Tories will enjoy abandoning you all because, deep down, that's what Nasty Tories like to do. Nonsense, of course, but typical of both Labour's smug sense of moral and personal superiority (here, alas, the Caledonian stamp is all too apparent) and their reluctance to accept that the parties can share ends while differing on means. No, they really do, many of them, believe that the Tories don't want to treat the sick or educate the poor or whatever.

As I say, Cameron is not Dubya and we can all be reasonably thankful for that but there are some similarities between Brown and Gore and his campaign is, in some respects, offering echoes of Gore's approach to that 2000 contest. The problem with the Risk Strategy, however, is that while it may convince some voters that the opposition may not be up to much good it does nothing to advance your own cause.

*Of course the Conservatives would put it differenttly: You're Never Alone With a Tory.

Written byAlex Massie

Alex Massie is Scotland Editor of The Spectator. He also writes a column for The Times and is a regular contributor to the Scottish Daily Mail, The Scotsman and other publications.

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